The BBC is renowned for its classic series and quite rightly. The quality of this production is seamless, and if there is a criticism you could say it lacks originality, remaining faithful to the novel, which, for purists, is a form of flattery.

At three hours, it seems too short. Well-known personalities, such as Uriah Heep (Nicholas Lyndhurst), flash past in a trice and even Mr Micawber (Bob Hoskins) feels underused. This is not the fault of Adrian Hodges, who wrote the adaptation, but rather a desire on the part of the viewer to spend more time with them.

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Charles Dickens called David Copperfield his "favourite child". The story of a boy growing up through loving and troubled times is so crammed with incident you are spoilt for choice. Two things stand out, as well as David's tenacity and good nature. Dickens likes coincidence and his characters tend to be black-and-white. There is no way that Mr Murdstone (Trevor Eve), who marries David's mother (Emilia Fox), will be anything but a nasty piece of work, not to mention his horrible sister (Zoe Wannamaker). The headmaster (Ian McKellen) at his first school is a parody of sadistically eccentric teachers, as Heep is a caricature of obsequiousness.

The good people have no faults, it seems. Peggotty (Pauline Quirke), who is David's mother's servant and friend, oozes love, compassion and common sense, an idealised nanny from a simple, generous-hearted family. Micawber, himself, and Mrs Micawber (Imelda Staunton) are nothing but kindness, even though he witters on a bit. David's great aunt (Maggie Smith) is the exception to the rule. She starts off a dragon and ends up a dove.

The acting is a joy. Ciaran McMenamin is an interesting choice for the older David, being Irish, although you wouldn't know it. As parts go, this is not the easiest. David teeters on the brink of being too nice, always a disadvantage in a world where the cad is king, and McMenamin can't quite shake this off. You want him to lose his rag, just once.

McKellen turns a guest spot into a tour-de-force and both Wannamaker and Lyndhurst revel in their nastiness. Eve, on the other hand, cannot be entirely convincing as a child-beater. You know it hurts him more than it does the boy. Quirke is huggy bear scrumptious and Hoskins brings genuine humanity into what could have been a sentimental role.

The film belongs, if it belongs to anyone, which it can't, being too rich in character, to Smith. Her comic timing reflects a lifetime's experience and to watch her now, at the prime of her prime, Miss Brodie, is to witness greatness.

Reviewed on: 30 Aug 2001
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Faithful adaptation of Dickens' novel about a boy growing up through troubled times.
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Director: Simon Curtis

Writer: Adrian Hodges, based on the novel by Charles Dickens

Starring: Maggie Smith, Bob Hoskins, Ciaran McMenamin, Pauline Quirke, Trevor Eve, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Alun Armstrong, Oliver Ford Davis, Emilia Fox, Zoe Wannamaker, Ian McKellen, Imelda Staunton, Daniel Radcliffe

Year: 1999

Runtime: 179 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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